This is the third in a series of profiles of Denver mayoral candidates.
Penfield Tate III said he started thinking about making a second bid for Denver mayor last year while traveling throughout the city in his job as a public finance lawyer.
And no matter the neighborhood he was in or the income level of the people he spoke with, their complaints about the city were consistent, he said: They were upset about the way growth and development were playing out throughout Denver, especially when it came to traffic.
“There is a feeling that is shared throughout this community that development has been happening or been getting done to us in our neighborhoods and not happening with and for us,” Tate told Colorado Politics.
LISTEN to John C. Ensslin's interview with Penfield Tate III below.
A former state legislator, Tate’s run for mayor in 2003 did not get very far. He lost to some brewpub owner named John Hickenlooper and finished fourth behind former City Auditor Don Mares and former Police Chief Ari Zavaras. In the run-off election, he endorsed Hickenlooper.
But this time, he said, the mood in the city seems distinctly different than it did just four years ago when Mayor Michael Hancock easily won a second term without even the need for a June runoff election.
Tate said he acknowledges whereever he goes as a candidate that the city’s phenomenal growth and development over the last eight years is bound to continue.
“But the question is: What does it look like? What does it feel like? How is it accomplished?” he asked.
“Is it a collaborative process or is it dictatorial where developers come in and do what they want? And city council rubber stamps and the mayor approves and supports development without any community engagement or community involvement?” he added.
He cites two past Denver mayors as role models in this regard.
He said Federico Peña, for whom Tate once worked as an aide in the 1980s, had a knack for empowering neighborhoods
“He wanted to make sure that people who lived in the community had a chance to give voice to what they wanted to see in their city,” Tate said.
And Wellington Webb, he said, made it clear to developers such as Forest City in Stapleton that he wanted a certain amount of park space in exchange for permission to build housing.
In this era, Tate said the city needs to press developers to create and set aside more affordable housing as part of their approval process.
“We’ve lost that intentionality,” Tate said. “And I will be intentional about development and growth.”
Early political lessons
Tate’s own introduction to politics came at about the age of 15 when his father, Penfield Tate II, was elected to the Boulder City Council and later became mayor.
The young Tate would ride around town on his bicycle with campaign signs for his dad.
But controversy broke out later over the elder Tate’s support for an ordinance that defended the rights of LGBTQ residents.
Boulder in 1974 was not then the liberal bastion it would later become, Tate III said. His father survived a recall but was voted out of office in the next election.
“It was tough,” Tate recalled. “And in Boulder at the time, there weren’t a lot of African-American people. So, it’s not like you could be invisible or sort of fall into the background. Which I didn’t do anyway. I just dealt with it head-on.”
He said his parents each taught him valuable lessons about politics that would stick with him.
His father’s approach "was you may as well stand for what you believe in because not everybody’s going to agree with you and not everybody is going to disagree with you,” Tate said.
“And so that’s what I did,” he added. “And my mother, on top of that said, [said] ‘When you believe in something, work hard for it.”
Criticism of Hancock
During this mayoral campaign, Tate has been critical of Hancock for his role in sending provocative text messages to a female detective who had been part of the mayor’s security detail.
Hancock has taken responsibility for the incident and apologized to the detective, to his family and to the community.
Tate said during an interview in March that he only brought up the topic when other people asked him about it. However, at a recent mayoral forum, Tate brought it up himself without anyone asking that question.
“You know Michael has admitted that his texts were inappropriate,” Tate said in an interview. “But it goes beyond that. When you’re the mayor, you set the tone for the city.”
Tate has also criticized the Hancock administration for not doing more to relieve the traffic congestion that the city’s growth and increased population has generated.
He called for creating a Department of Transportation to unsnarl the problem. Hancock, however, came up with his own proposal for a charter change that would create a Department of Transportation and Infrastructure.
As for the problem of homelessness, Tate said the city should be doing more to address the problem.
He has proposed expediting the approval process for expanded temporary and permanent homeless shelters.
He has suggested having “creative conversations” with Denver Public Schools about possibly converting unused school buildings as temporary housing.
And has also supported an accelerated process for approval of tiny home villages for homeless people around the city.
While he is opposed to Initiative 300 – the measure that would assert the rights of homeless people to live on the streets – Tate said he might under some circumstances favor a small supervised outdoor encampment for them with rest rooms and laundry facilities. But he added that it must also include supportive services.
“We’re not going to fix this problem by criminalizing homelessness,” Tate said. “And that’s what we’ve done. We miss the point when we do that,” he said.
“Something’s got to be done about it. Someone’s got to pay attention, he said. “This is not what we’re about as a city and we know we can do better.”